The 1980s saw several important changes in the Society’s activities, which were not covered in the two short reports in the 1983-1986 Handbooks, published primarily to update the list of members and their addresses. The present membership stands at 325, with 15 Honorary Members, and 82 (25%) from abroad, some of whom are most faithful attenders at meetings. There are several members in the USA, Australia and India, and one Japanese.
The number of papers given at the Society’s meetings was waning at the beginning of the decade but began to increase when Ian Stothers became Meeting Secretary – he would not divulge the secret of this to anyone! There are now whole-day meetings, with about 18 papers, in place of the half-day meetings with about 10 papers, making them more valuable for those who travel from a distance. The subjects presented are still varied and the discussions vigorous, especially with David Hull leading in the chair. The publication of abstracts, started in 1979, was debated hotly, several times – chiefly on account of the quality of their preparation and on their CV value: the clinically-based investigators felt that they needed publications, but some who were also members of the Physiological Society insisted on a rigorous method of asking for acceptance for publication at the meeting after the presentations. This was most unpopular and shelved; the simple guidelines for a clear abstract are adhered to and publication continues in Early Human Development.
The summer, out-of-London meetings now extend over two days and are usually accompanied by scientific poster demonstrations.
Since these meetings are supported by firms and with neonatal interests commercial displays are included. The 25th Anniversary meeting of the Society was held at Oxford in July 1984 when Kenneth Cross gave the Silver Jubilee lecture on “Investigating the newborn”.
There were joint meetings with various societies in the UK and we had our first joint meeting abroad in 1986, by invitation of the Swedish Neonatal Society. This celebrated the retirement of Petter Karlberg and was held in Marstrand, an island off the coast near Gothenberg. We stayed in a delightful old hotel by the sea and climbed to the Carlsten castle for the meeting. It was still cold in May and the Viking atmosphere was enhanced in the evening when we dined in their style off wooden boards and drank from vessels made from cow horns!
Petter lectured on “Respiratory control during the onset of breathing” and Elsie Widdowson gave a memorable talk on “Babies and other newborn animals”, with illustrations from her own work.
In 1988 the Finnish Neonatal Society joined us for the Summer Meeting at Leicester and the German and Austrian Neonatal Societies came over for the Liverpool meeting in 1989. In Liverpool Professor BA Wood gave a lecture with the provocative title of “Why gorillas don’t need obstetricians” and we dined at the “Tate Gallery of the North”. In 1990 the Summer Meeting was held jointly with the International Society of Veterinary Perinatology, at St John’s College, Cambridge. The human infant held its own amongst the foal and calf. There were altogether six “keynote” addresses during the three days, and one by Professor AI Aynsley Green on “Hormones, regulatory peptides and the adaptation to postnatal nutrition” being most striking.
The Vickers Medical company has continued to support, most generously, a lecture given by distinguished guests at the November meetings: these are listed in Table 2. We were provided with many delights, but special mention must be made of the fastest lecturer on record, Professor Judith Hall, who sped us through “Dysmorphic features and their genesis” at breakneck speed, inspiring us all with her enthusiasm. Invited lectures are also now a feature of the Summer, out-of-London meetings, which are listed on the following pages.
The Society has always been run quite simply and inexpensively: costs were low because university lecture rooms were free and the Meeting Secretaries able to copy the programmes and to persuade their families to help stick stamps on the envelopes! The hosts of the Summer Meetings were also able to obtain financial help and the balance of income over expenditure was credited to the Society. In 1976 the subscription was raised from £2 to £5 and, with the further increase in 1988 to £20 per annum, the bank balance rose to over £10,000 in 1989. The members thought that this should be disbursed in some way, and travel granting for investigators coming to the meetings from Eastern European and Third World countries (started in 1981) was extended to young investigators from the more affluent Western European countries and, finally, to those travelling within the UK. In 1990 Professor McCance’s Bridge Exempt fund (a gift to the Society in its early days) was redeemed and used to start the McCance Travel Fellowship.
Venue for meetings
The Society has never had a home* and, following twelve years of hospitality using the Medical School lecturer theatre at St Thomas’ Hospital, we hired the lecture theatre at the Institute of Child Health, Guilford Street. This was too large, inhibiting discussion, and there were short, unsatisfactory periods at the Vickers building on the embankment and at the London School of Pharmacy, Brunswick Square. In view of the reasonable affluence of the Society, just described, it was decided to hire the new lecture theatres at the Royal Society of Medicine, which are centrally located and comfortable. this caused a rapid erosion of our capital assets and the subscription rise, just referred to, causing the retirement of a few of the older members of the Society.
*In 1988 the Biological Council discussed the possibility of a “Centre” being obtained, or built, in London where Societies might have offices and lecture theatres for their meetings.
We heard of Kenneth Cross’ death, on 10 October 1990, with much sadness. He was a founder member of the Society and President from 1969-72. Many members of the Society will not have had the privilege of knowing him, for he had not been to meetings for some time due to ill health. Kenneth was a physiologist who opened up the possibility of measuring the respiration of newborn babies. His infant plethysmograph was safe and accurate and most acceptable to parents and paediatricians. It therefore led to the development of reliable methods of treating sick babies. We all owe a lot to his public fight for the necessity of making observations on the newborn, and to his integrity and encouragement.
His colleague, Ian Stothers, died young in June 1991.
– Maureen Young (1991)